Why Gratitude is Smart Business for Leaders

One of the most prominent experiences I’ve had as an adult was the year I spent in Afghanistan, where I advised the Afghan National Police in 2013. 

And one of the biggest reasons why it was a prominent experience is that it gave me a fresh perspective and sense of how good my life was in America. Being around poverty and people who had lived through various levels of armed conflict for the past three decades has a way of making your “problems” seem a little less consequential. It makes you grateful for what you have. 

But it doesn’t take a trip to Afghanistan to develop a sense of gratitude. In fact, I’ve come to realize how gratitude is a daily choice: You must consciously decide to be thankful, or you’ll quickly become complacent and focus only on what’s not going well in your life. Furthermore, there’s a difference between (a) feeling grateful for what you have in life overall and (b) expressing gratitude to others for something they’ve done. 

While feeling grateful is intrinsically beneficial in boosting our positive outlook on life, the latter—expressing thanks to other people—is a small-yet-powerful way in which we can influence the people we lead or the people with whom we work.  

And what’s more, thanking people who work for us or work with us is smart business. 


Because when we thank other people for what they do, they’re more likely to feel socially valued. They’re also more likely to help us again and perform other, valuable social behaviors such as helping each other, talking positively about the organization, being polite and other critical tendencies that make teams and organizations run well. 

So this holiday season, instead of or in addition to—hey, I’m not judging—overeating and braving the throngs of retail deal-seekers, set a goal of thanking the people around you at work. And when you do, consider a few of the following:

  • Be sincere. This isn’t about manipulating people, and empty praise won’t work well very long anyway. People can often tell if you’re not genuine. 
  • Be specific. When thanking someone, describe to them the situation, what he or she actually did and the impact it had on you or the team. That way, the person can know exactly what behavior you noticed and appreciated. This will also help ensure that you’re thanking people for actions that truly deserve thanks. 
  • Be timely. If someone does something praiseworthy, tell him or her about it right away. It’ll mean more then than it will if you wait six months to mention it in a performance review or awards ceremony. 

One of the best parts of expressing thanks to those around us is that it’s free. All it takes is some intentional effort and a sense of sincere appreciation. 

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About Ben Baran
Ben Baran, Ph.D., is probably one of the few people in the world who is equally comfortable in a university classroom, a corporate boardroom and in full body armor carrying a U.S. government-issued M4 assault rifle. Visit: www.benbaran.com